Freedom in the World

Argentina

Freedom in the World 2016
Freedom Status: 
Free
Aggregate Score: 
79
Freedom Rating: 
2.0
Political Rights: 
2
Civil Liberties: 
2

Quick Facts

Capital: 
Buenos Aires
Population: 
42,426,000
GDP/capita: 
$12,598.6
Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Free
Overview: 

In November 2015, Argentines elected Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri of the centrist Cambiemos coalition as their next president. This ended a dozen years of rule by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband, Néstor Kirchner, who held the presidency before her. By a slim 51.4 to 48.6 percent margin, Macri defeated Daniel Scioli of the ruling Front for Victory (FPV) coalition, a faction of the Justicialist Party, also known as the Peronist Party. In legislative elections, the FPV won a plurality of seats in the lower house, but lost its absolute majority there, while maintaining an absolute majority in the Senate. The Peronists lost the governorship of Buenos Aires Province for the first time since 1983, to María Eugenia Vidal of Cambiemos.

Macri took office in December and immediately began reversing some of Kirchner’s populist policies, eliminating or reducing export taxes on various agricultural products, and lifting restrictions on foreign currency purchases. He also issued a number of decrees while the FPV-dominated legislature was in recess; one effectively overturned a 2009 media law designed to discourage monopolies, and another allowed Macri to fill two vacancies on the Supreme Court. The moves, which the new justice minister said were emergency measures protected by law, prompted some observers to allege that Macri was disregarding democratic processes.

In January 2015, Alberto Nisman, a federal prosecutor, accused then president Kirchner of protecting Iranian officials suspected of complicity in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in exchange for a lucrative grain-for-oil deal. However, the night before he was to present his findings to Congress, Nisman was found dead in his home from a gunshot wound. Damián Pachter, a journalist who initially broke the news of Nisman’s death on Twitter, subsequently fled to Israel, fearing his own life. A month after Nisman’s death, tens of thousands of Argentines gathered in the capital to protest the government’s inability to protect its own prosecutor, as well as its failure to provide justice to the victims of the bombing after more than 20 years. Following Nisman’s death, Kirchner disbanded the national intelligence agency. A federal appeals court dismissed Nisman’s charges against Kirchner in March. The circumstances surrounding Nisman’s death were still unexplained at year’s end.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Political Rights: 31 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 11 / 12

As amended in 1994, the constitution provides for a president to be elected for a four-year term, with the option of reelection for one additional term. Presidential candidates must win 45 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. The 2015 presidential election was pushed to a November runoff after neither Scioli nor Macri won a majority in the October first round; Macri narrowly prevailed in the second.

The National Congress consists of the 257-member Chamber of Deputies, whose representatives are directly elected for four-year terms, with half of the seats up for election every two years; and the 72-member Senate, whose representatives are directly elected for six-year terms, with one-third of the seats up for election every two years. While the ruling FPV won the most seats of any party in the Chamber of Deputies in October 2015 elections, it lost 26 seats compared to the previous legislature, and with it its absolute majority in the lower house. The opposition Cambiemos coalition gained 29 seats in the Chamber of Deputies in the elections. The FPV maintained its absolute majority in the Senate, gaining 2 seats to control a total of 42. Following the 2015 elections, the Cambiemos coalition controlled 15 Senate seats.

Voting in Tucumán Province’s gubernatorial election in August was accompanied by the burning of ballot boxes and claims that candidates distributed bags of food to poorer citizens on election day. Upon an official announcement of the victory of Kirchnerite candidate Juan Manzur, thousands of people demonstrated peacefully in the provincial capital. Police violently dispersed the protest, employing tear gas and rubber bullets and injuring a number of people. In September, the provincial Supreme Court overturned an appeals court’s decision to nullify the results, ruling that the election was valid. While the events in Tucumán sparked concern among a few observers about the general integrity of Argentine elections, few serious claims of fraud were raised following the legislative and presidential polls later in the year.

 

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 14 / 16

The right to organize political parties is respected. The Peronists have been a dominant force in politics since 1946, and critics of the party have sometimes faced undue attention from tax officials in recent years. However, Argentina’s multiparty political system affords opposition candidates the realistic opportunity to compete for political power, as demonstrated in the 2015 presidential election. The Justicialist (Peronist) Party has two opposing factions: the center-left FPV and the center-right Federal Peronism faction. Other parties include Macri’s centrist Radical Civic Union (UCR), the center-right Republican Proposal (PRO), and the Civic Coalition (CC), which together comprise the Cambiemos coalition. A third important force in Argentine politics is the United for a New Alternative (UNA) coalition, which includes the Renewal Front, a breakaway faction of Justicialist Party members not aligned with Kirchner.

Argentines’ political choices are generally free from intimidation or harassment. Ethnic minorities have full political rights.

 

C. Functioning of Government: 6 / 12

Corruption plagues Argentine society, and scandals are common. Former president Carlos Menem, who currently serves as a senator, was sentenced in December 2015 to four and a half years in prison for embezzling public assets during his presidency to pay bonuses to other government officials. Menem, age 85, has congressional immunity and is not expected to serve his sentence. In October, former secretary of transportation Ricardo Jaime accepted a plea bargain in which he admitted to having accepted vacation packages and other gifts from the heads of companies that held government contracts; he received a one-and-a-half-year suspended sentence, and was fined more than $200,000. A bribery and influence-peddling case against former vice president Amado Boudou remained open in 2015; he stands accused of secretly acquiring a majority stake in a printing firm with the intent of steering lucrative government contracts toward it. Federal courts rejected Boudou’s appeal in 2015, and a trial is expected in 2016. Argentina was ranked 107 out of 168 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Argentina does not have a federal law on access to information, despite several attempts to pass one in Congress. Several provinces have passed their own freedom of information laws, but enforcement and funding problems have undermined their impact. In December, Macri’s administration began consulting with civil society representatives on a draft access to information law.

 

Civil Liberties: 48 / 60 (–1)

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16

Argentine law guarantees freedom of expression, and Congress decriminalized libel and slander in 2009. However, in 2015 Cristina Kirchner’s administration continued to pressure opposition media through verbal attacks, disparaging critical media as political opponents. Despite multiple Supreme Court rulings urging the federal government to adhere to objective criteria for the allocation of official advertising, Kirchner’s administration continued to make discriminatory use of official advertising contracts, doling them out as political rewards. Separately, in June, the high court in the province of Córdoba ruled that the region’s newspapers were required by law to publish parties’ political announcements free of charge for a period of ten days before each election. Press freedom advocates characterized the mandate as media expropriation and, by imposing what had to be published, a form of censorship.

In December, while the FPV-dominated legislature was on recess, newly elected president Macri issued a decree that effectively overturned a 2009 media law designed to discourage monopolies. This prompted criticism that the president was disregarding democratic processes and undermining regulatory structures established by the 2009 law.

While Argentina is a relatively safe country for journalists, provincial governments have sometimes applied selective pressure to suppress critical news. Juan Pablo Suárez, a newspaper editor known for his criticism of the government, was accused in 2014 of sedition and “inciting collective violence.” He was the first journalist to be charged under Argentina’s 2011 antiterrorism law, which amended the penal code to prescribe doubled sentences if a crime was intended to terrorize the public. The aggravated penalty was dropped in response to strong public backlash, but his case was still pending at the end of 2015. Separately, in response to allegedly flawed electronic-voting software in the city of Buenos Aires’s local elections in July, a judge ordered a raid on the home of a whistle-blower who had exposed the flaws. A judge also clamped down on internet coverage of the leaked information.

The government does not restrict access to the internet, which is widely used in Argentina. However, in August Argentina’s lower house began debating a series of reforms that would limit online expression by making it a criminal offense to publish discriminatory comments online. The vote had not taken place by year’s end.

Argentina’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Academic freedom is a cherished Argentine tradition and is largely observed in practice. Private discussion is vibrant and unrestricted.

 

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 11 / 12

Freedoms of assembly and association are generally respected, and citizens organize protests to make their voices heard. However, in August, police violently dispersed thousands of people protesting alleged voter fraud in Tucumán Province’s gubernatorial election. Civic organizations are robust and play a major role in society, although some fall victim to Argentina’s pervasive corruption. Organized labor remains dominated by Peronist unions, and union influence has decreased in recent years. However, in March and June 2015 the country’s transportation unions called two nationwide, 24-hour general strikes, grounding flights, shutting down buses and trains, and paralyzing much of the country; the union members protested high inflation and taxes, and shrinking real wages for workers. Annual inflation in 2015 was estimated to be as high as 35 percent.

 

F. Rule of Law: 10 / 16 (–1)

Inefficiencies and delays plague the judicial system, which can be subject to political manipulation. The Supreme Court, however, maintains relative independence. In December 2015, with the legislature on recess, Macri appointed two Supreme Court justices by decree. Argentine law allows for fair trials, a right that is generally enforced by the judiciary. Police misconduct—including torture and brutality against suspects in custody—is endemic. Prisons are overcrowded, and conditions remain substandard throughout the country. Arbitrary arrests and abuse by police are rarely punished in the courts, and police collusion with drug traffickers is common.

Drug-related violence increased in 2015 as international criminal organizations used the country as both an operational base and a transit route. The April murder of four people suspected of involvement in a drug-related dispute in Buenos Aires highlighted the increasing problem of Argentina’s drug trade. The four individuals, Paraguayan nationals, were shot at least 34 times in one of the city’s slums. A 2015 report on the drug trade by an Argentine nongovernmental organization presented evidence that Buenos Aires was home to at least 10 cocaine laboratories run by a Peruvian criminal network. Argentina’s northern and central regions have been particularly affected by the drug trade. The murder rate in the city of Rosario, in the northern province of Santa Fe, was five times the national average in 2014.

In 2005, the Supreme Court declared that laws passed in the 1980s to safeguard the military from prosecution were unconstitutional, laying the foundation for the prosecution of past military crimes. Following the ruling, then president Néstor Kirchner initiated proceedings against former officials involved in Argentina’s so-called dirty war (1976–83), during which right-wing military rulers utilized brutal tactics to silence dissent. Such prosecutions continued under Cristina Kirchner’s administration, with dozens of military and police officers convicted of torture, murder, and forced disappearance and sentenced to life in prison.

Argentina’s indigenous peoples, who represent approximately 2.4 percent of the population, are largely neglected by the government and suffer disproportionately from extreme poverty and illness. Only 11 of Argentina’s 23 provinces have constitutions recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples.

Argentina’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community enjoys full legal rights, including the right to serve openly in the military. However, LGBT people face some degree of societal discrimination, and occasionally police brutality. A number of killings of transgender women that took place in fall 2015 remain unsolved. In September 2015, legislators in Buenos Aires Province passed a bill requiring that 1 percent of public sector positions be reserved for transgender individuals.

 

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 13 / 16

The government respects citizens’ constitutional right to free travel both inside and outside of Argentina. However, harsh government restrictions on foreign currency transactions have limited citizens’ ability to travel and conduct business. In December, Argentina’s new finance minister lifted the capital controls, and allowed the peso to float freely. Doing so allowed ordinary Argentines to purchase U.S. dollars, which was previously very difficult. Citizens generally enjoy the right to own property and establish private businesses. However, approximately 70 percent of the country’s rural indigenous communities lack titles to their lands. Current laws require the government to perform a survey on land occupied by indigenous communities by November 2017. While any evictions before that time are technically illegal, forced evictions still occur. Indigenous communities increasingly struggled to defend their land rights in 2015 against oil and gas prospectors.

Women actively participate in politics in Argentina, and comprise over one-third of national legislators. Although abortion remains illegal, in 2012 the Supreme Court outlawed the prosecution of women who have had an abortion after being raped. An estimated 500,000 illegal abortions are performed each year, with a few resulting in death. Domestic violence against women is a serious problem, and women continue to face economic discrimination and gender-based wage gaps.

Same-sex marriage has been legal nationwide since 2010. A 2012 gender identity law allows people to legally change their gender without surgery or psychiatric evaluation.

Some sectors of the charcoal and brick-producing industries profit from the forced labor of men, women, and children from Argentina as well as from neighboring countries; forced labor is also present in the agriculture sector and among domestic workers and street vendors. Men, women, and children are subject to sex trafficking. Government funding for programs to assist victims of human trafficking is insufficient.

 

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

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